TAMPA — At around 8:30 Friday morning, Tom Brady posted on Instagram a photograph of himself — taken by his 12-year-old son, Jack — seated alone at the island of a kitchen with a signed two-year contract to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He wore a black hoodie and a smile that lit up the room, but the picture was otherwise unremarkable — until you realize that its currency is worth much more than 1,000 words.
With the stroke of a pen, Brady ended a 20-year career with the Patriots that included nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships. In one instant, he was transformed into Tampa Tom. A Florida Man. This portrait of renewal at age 42 represented a seismic shift that could be felt not only in Tampa Bay but around the rest of the National Football League.
Brady took control of the moment as if it were the last two minutes of a game. He had said his good-byes to New England in a much longer social media post Monday as he headed to free agency. On Friday, it was all about his new team and the journey he can’t wait to begin with the Bucs.
Brady announced his signing Friday, not his new employers.
“Excited, humble, hungry,” Brady wrote. “If there is one thing I have learned about football, it’s nobody cares what you did last year or the year before that … you earn the trust and respect of those around you through commitment every single day.
“I’m starting a new football journey and thankful for the (Bucs) for giving me an opportunity to do what I love to do. I look forward to meeting all my new teammates and coaches and proving (to) them that they can believe and trust in me.”
In the NFL, Brady has always been a player who doesn’t just rise to the occasion, he soars above it. He picked up his phone Friday and surprised a few new teammates, including receiver Chris Godwin, by calling them.
“Getting an opportunity to play with him is a blessing and I’m going to try to take full advantage of that,” Godwin said in an interview on the Bucs’ website. “I let him know that I’m excited to play with him, as I’m sure a lot of guys are, but he seems equally excited about this new challenge, this new chapter of life.”
This is not Willie Mays, who looked years older at 42 while hanging on to play for the New York Mets when his bat was slow and his legs slower. This is not Joe Namath without knees at 34, hobbling around for the Los Angeles Rams, or Johnny Unitas heavy-legged in high tops at 40 with the Chargers.
The Bucs’ statement on Brady’s signing noted that the quarterback passed for at least 4,000 yards in each of the past three seasons, throwing 85 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. Departing Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions last year alone.
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Brady chose the Bucs because he believes they offer him the best chance to keep winning. Once again he didn’t take every nickel he deserved. He signed a two-year deal worth $50 million, all guaranteed, putting $4.5 million in a performance bonus for each year to give the Bucs more salary cap space to improve the team.
In case he plans to extend his career beyond age 45, Brady, who turns 43 in August, included a clause that does not allow for him to be traded or designated the franchise player.
Because NFL rules restrict travel during the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no pomp or circumstance of a news conference for Brady. The Bucs may schedule a call with reporters in a few days, but that’s it.
Within a few hours of the signing announcement, the Bucs had purchased a digital billboard heralding Brady’s eventual arrival.
New teammates responded on social media, but they were careful not to be too amped. Over the past five seasons, many of them had forged a close personal relationship with Winston since the Bucs drafted him first overall in 2015. Say what you want about his penchant for turnovers, Winston is well-liked and without a job. Some Bucs declined to comment altogether despite their obvious excitement over Brady.
Linebacker Lavonte David said he tried to contain his emotions.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to believe it until I actually had seen it,” he said on ESPN. “When it actually broke, man, I was excited. I’m glad to have an icon like Tom Brady join us down in Tampa Bay, and it’s going to be exciting times.”
David was asked what Brady would bring specifically to the Bucs. “Winning,” David replied. “He knows how to win.”
Credit the Bucs for recognizing that Brady could be convinced to not only leave New England but possibly finish his career competing in a new conference, a new city and a new climate. Instead of stoic Bill Belichick for his coach, he chose to play for excitable Bruce Arians.
Having coached Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer, the 67-year-old Arians can still work his quarterbacks hard but will represent a breath of fresh air to Brady, ”a breath that may have some rum on it from time to time," as Mike Florio of the website ProFootball Talk says.
“Tom is the most successful quarterback in the history of the league,” Arians said. “But what makes him special is his ability to make those around him better. … He’s a proven winner who will provide leadership, accountability and work ethic necessary to lead us to our goal of winning another championship.”
Brady has a team and town that is starved to fire the cannons at Raymond James Stadium and welcome the GOAT to the boat in the north end zone.
The Patriots are in his past. Friday was not about an ending, but a beginning.
“I have always believed that well done is much better than well said,” Brady wrote. “So I’m not gonna say much more … I’m gonna get to work. #Year1.”
Contact Rick Stroud at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 709-5982. Follow @NFLSTROUD.